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Report by UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz:

Attacks and criminalization of Indigenous Peoples defending their lands and rights

Conclusions and Recommendations

  • States must adopt measures to protect Indigenous Peoples. Crucial in this regard is holding perpetrators accountable: all violent attacks against indigenous defenders must be promptly and impartially investigated. States should adopt a zero-tolerance approach to the killing and violence of indigenous human rights defenders.


  • States must publicly support the rights of Indigenous Peoples, particularly their rights to self-determination over their lands, territories, and resources. States should consult in good faith with Indigenous Peoples and obtain their free, prior, and informed consent for any project affecting their lands.


  • States should ensure legislation creates due diligence obligations for companies where there is a risk of human rights violations, and repeal legislation that criminalizes indigenous livelihoods.


  • Enabling a safe environment for Indigenous Peoples to advocate for their rights is key. Law enforcement officials should be trained on human rights standards and refrain from criminalizing Indigenous Peoples who are peacefully defending their rights. Some countries have adopted legislation and policies to provide protection for human rights defenders, including Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala, and Honduras.


  • Criminalization raises sensitivities for foreign governments, international organizations, and multilateral institutions, which generally seek to avoid interfering in domestic legal processes. However, when supporting companies or governments engaging in these practices, international actors such as multilateral development banks, development financial institutions, or climate funds, risk contributing to and exacerbating criminalization.


  • On July 3, 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on violations of the rights of Indigenous Peoples which denounces the continuing criminalization. The Special Rapporteur welcomes the strong public stance taken by the European Union, which can play an important role in preventing violations.


  • Private companies should exert human rights due diligence in all operations and adopt clear policy commitments to that effect.

Key Messages


  • The Special Rapporteur has observed a drastic increase in violence and killings, criminalization and undue legal prosecution, and threats against Indigenous Peoples defending their rights. While preparing this report, the Special Rapporteur received information about hundreds of cases of attacks and criminalization taking place around the world.


  • Front Line Defenders recorded 312 murders of human rights advocates in 2017; 67% were killed for defending their land, nearly always in the context of private sector projects, and around 80% took place in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and the Philippines. Global Witness reported 207 killings of land and environmental defenders in 2017.


  • These killings typically occur in the context of violence and threats against entire indigenous communities, including disappearances and evictions, arbitrary arrests, and smear campaigns.


  • The Special Rapporteur has recorded a significant uptick in the frequency of attacks in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, and the Philippines.


  • The rapid expansion of development projects on indigenous lands is driving a global crisis: opposition is often met with violence and legal attacks that seek to silence any opposition to business interests.


  • In some countries, escalating militarization, national security acts, and anti-terrorism legislation have put Indigenous Peoples in the line of fire—at times literally—of army and police forces.


  • Indigenous Peoples’ ways of life are also deemed illegal in the name of conservation, leading to arrests, forced evictions, and other human rights violations. (See


  • A crucial underlying cause of the intensified attacks is the lack of respect for Indigenous Peoples’ land rights, which can lead to them being labeled trespassers in their own homes and evicted from the lands that form the basis of their livelihoods, social cohesion, and spiritual traditions.


  • Structural racism and discrimination that views Indigenous Peoples as “obstacles to development” contributes to the violence. States and corporations often ignore Indigenous Peoples’ significant contributions to climate change mitigation and sustainable development.


  • Justice systems typically fail Indigenous Peoples. Widespread impunity for violent acts against Indigenous Peoples perpetuates their vulnerability and marginalization. Instead, justice systems are often used to penalize and silence Indigenous Peoples defending their rights.


  • While Indigenous Peoples are not generally opposed to development, they reject projects forced on them without their free, prior, and informed consent. Far from delivering on shared economic development, these projects often further marginalize Indigenous Peoples, entrenching them in poverty and destroying the resources they rely on and sustainably manage.

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